California Hospital Gouging (the $ kind of gouging)

“California hospitals charged uninsured patients more than three times what private insurers or government programs would pay for the same services in 2004, a higher differential than all but two states in the country, according to a study to be published today.

“The two-year study, appearing in the journal Health Affairs, examined hospital charges between 1984 and 2004. It found the gap between the rates hospitals charge to uninsured patients and other payers widened greatly over time. Also widening was the ratio between what hospitals charge and what the federal government has determined to be the actual cost of care. New Jersey and Pennsylvania had the highest markups.

“‘The hospitals have to drop their charges to a reasonable amount for everybody,’ said the study’s author, Gerard Anderson, director of the Center for Hospital Finance and Management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“The hospital industry lambasted the report, saying it relied on old data that don’t take into account changes that have improved billing practices and reduced the gap between insured and uninsured patients. Since the period covered by the study, many hospitals have changed their billing practices. In addition, California enacted a law to curb hospital charges to uninsured patients.

“‘This study is 3 years old, woefully out of date and does not reflect any current realities in California,’ said Jan Emerson, spokeswoman for the California Hospital Association.

“Under a law that went into effect Jan. 1., California hospitals can charge low- to moderate-income patients no more than the highest rates charged by Medicare or any other government payment program in which the hospital participates. Aggressive collections practices such as garnisheeing wages or placing liens on properties are prohibited.”
Hospital billings vary wildly. New report tracks wide spread in rates charged in state, by Victoria Colliver, SF Chronicle, May 8, 2007 (via the well informed Working Californians Blog)

Hey, lady, if it’s not a problem, why is there a new law to fix it?

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